While regular internet users today are aware of the variety of online scams and threats, cybercriminals still find ways to steal data and get access to systems. Sometimes, even tech-savvy users fall prey to online scams. One such scam is scareware, also known as fraudware or deception software.
Scareware is a fake software that is advertised via web alerts, tricking users into believing the software is crucial to fix a supposedly serious issue, such as malware infection. In the early 2000s, a scareware epidemic spread rapidly online, with cybercriminals trying to promote fake antivirus software such as Mac Defender or MS Antivirus. Nowadays, scareware may promise to help you increase your smartphone’s performance or help you optimize your storage.
When installed, a scareware software gets the users’ personal information and sends it to unauthorized third parties. Scareware scams trick users into providing personal data such as credit card details, emails, and passwords. Scareware can also spread malware, causing substantial damage to your computer and data privacy.
How does scareware work?
Scareware is a manipulative way to fool unaware internet users into believing that they need to urgently buy or download a useless or malicious software, that is disguised as critical and important. To accomplish this objective, scareware uses social engineering to cause panic in internet users. The message appears in the web browser and has a sense of urgency, asking users to take immediate action. Some common examples of scareware are:
Pop-up ads showing a fake list of viruses or malware that have been detected on your computer and ask you to download antivirus software to remove them.
Pop-up ads warning you that your system drivers are outdated and should be updated using the software advertised in the ad.
Pop-up messages about your inbox storage being full and not accepting any new email messages.
Pop-up ads warning you of security problems like possible Wi-Fi intrusion.
How to spot scareware scams?
The first thing you can do to avoid scareware scams is to be cautious with any pop-up ads you encounter while browsing the internet. You should watch out for the following warning signs:
Urgent call-to-action – Scammer try to get pressure you into acting quickly against the supposed threat.
Alarming warnings – To trap any potential target, scammers display pop-up ads with seriously alarming and frightening messages: your data will be lost, your device will crash, you won’t be able to receive any more emails.
Persistent pop-up ads – Another way to pressure their targets is by scripting these pop-up ads to stay active as long as possible. This means that the pop-ad won’t close or, even if you try to close it, another one will appear.
Unknown names – If the name of the antivirus software that you are being asked to download seems to be unheard of, then it is probably fake. Check the name of the software and find the website of the software developer.
False test-runs – The pop-up ad might advise you to run an online test first, or it will automatically start displaying a test-run. The ad will show a fake list of all the harmful viruses that your PC has to persuade you to download the full version of the fake software.
How to protect yourself from scareware?
The worst-case scenario when encountering pop-ads promoting scareware is accidentally starting the download. If this happens, try to cancel the download immediately. If it has been completed before you could cancel, delete the file, and run a detailed antivirus scan with a legitimate software.
To avoid scareware, you can make use of the following practices:
Keep your browser and antivirus software up to date – If possible, turn on the auto-update function to not have to worry about checking for the latest versions and updates.
Use an ad-blocker – Always keep your browser’s automatic pop-up ad-blocking function enabled.
Check the software – Avoid software that you have never encountered before or, if you do want to try out a completely new software, make sure you download it from an official source. Check reviews and rely on trusted information sources.
While the easiest way to avoid scareware is to distinguish between useful vs. useless ads and expected vs. unexpected call-to-action messages, the best way is to stay fully on guard by installing antivirus software like Avira Free Security. Avira Free Security is an all-in-one solution for your system security, online privacy, as well as your system’s performance-related issues.